“Each of the five seasons develops the story of Walter White, an Albuquerque, New Mexico high school chemistry teacher – and his descent into the deeper realms of immorality and illegality. Breaking Bad thereby places front and center for the viewer a host of crucial questions concerning moral and political agency, autonomy, action and responsibility.”
Those are some of the beginning sentences of the essay written by Samuel Chambers titled Walter White is A Bad Teacher. Breaking Bad aired on AMC from 2008-2013 with Bryan Cranston playing the lead role of Walter White. I remember the popularity of the show while it was still on air. My brother & mother were obsessed and would watch it together every Sunday. I’ve seen a few episodes here & there but never really got into it. (Sorta like the Game of Thrones craze now) But I was a HUGE Sons of Anarchy fan & watched every week when it was airing around the same time. Both Breaking Bad & SOA dealt with similar themes & the main characters of each show battled similar conflicts. But I digress.
The events of the show begin to unfold when Walter’s wife becomes pregnant with their second child at around the same time he’s diagnosed with advanced terminal lung cancer. He makes the decision to use his skills as a chemist to earn as much money as he can to leave his family before he dies. Therefore, he teams up with a former student, Jesse Pinkman, who failed his class but later becomes a small town meth producer. And the show begins.
The essay focuses not on Walter’s criminal activities as a methamphetamine cook but more on his failures as a teacher on a more personal level. At times, the essay goes over my head especially when he’s making comparisons to another essay written by a French writer but the author makes his case by focusing on the end of Season 3 and the events that set up Season 4. For those who aren’t familiar, Jesse & Walt teamed up with Gus who is the head of a Mexican cartel who later decides to kill them because he considers them a liability to his operation, especially Jesse who becomes addicted to the product he’s selling. Convinced by Walt, Jesse later murders one of Gus’s associates & afterwards finds that Walt is unappreciative & unsupportive. You can see the effects of taking another life has on an already fragile Jesse. As Season 4 begins, Jesse who by now is a recovering addict, there is a subtle power play between Gus and Walt with Jesse in the middle. The majority of the season focuses on Gus honing in on the divide between Walt & Jesse in attempts to get Jesse to betray Walt. However, by the season’s climax, Walt is the one who betrays Jesse which completely undermines their relationship in order to come out on top against Gus.
After reading this essay I went back to the episode(s) mentioned & re-watched them & it’s very interesting to watch it now with a different perspective than before. It’s very obvious to the watcher that Jesse’s character wants approval from Walt & he just wants to be accepted. He’s naive and easy to manipulate & of course Walt uses that to his own benefit. Walt or Mr. White as Jesse calls him is obviously someone that he looks up too & Walt doesn’t regard Jesse in the same way. He views him more as someone that can be used to fulfill the means to his end. Hence his failures as a teacher to Jesse.
“You’re the chemist man, you know, not, not me. And say they got like actual chemists…asking me chemistry stuff, that I don’t know how to answer because I’m not you. If I mess this up, I am dead. Mr. White, I need your help. Maybe you could coach me or give me some notes.” (Breaking Bad, Episode 4.9)
“Only a bad teacher tries to establish mastery by way of assertion of superior intelligence.” This is the basis of Walt’s relationship with Jesse. He thought he was superior because he has a high level of intelligence & Jesse is a simpleton who failed his high school classes & later becomes a meth dealer. That way of thinking backfires on Walt in another way because it also shows that he approaches his marriage & family life with that way of thinking to the point in where his wife leaves him & his disabled son wants nothing to do with him later on in the series.
Overall, I’m glad I read this essay even though at times it went over my level of comprehension. 😉 It allowed me to go back & watch certain episode(s) with a different lens & really see the point the author was trying to make with this piece of writing. I would recommend perusing the essay’s main points & maybe watch an episode or two. (or Sons of Anarchy!) It’s interesting, to say the least.
“….Doing so in such a way that the student follows the teacher’s will precisely because the student has been emancipated – because a student who has been granted the assumption of equality can choose to follow the teacher. This is what it means to inspire in teaching: not to show that you know more than students but to show them that they can know more.”